“How barbarous, to deny men the privilege of pursuing what they imagine to be their proper concerns and interests!
Yet, in a sense, this is just what you are doing when you allow your indignation to rise at their wrongdoing; for after all, they are only following their own apparent concerns and interests.
You say they are mistaken? Why then, tell them so, and explain it to them, instead of being indignant.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 6:27
Instead of checking my email, I flipped open the Meditations first thing this morning. Chance found this passage, and the words spoke to me over the centuries – on two counts.
Firstly, I like to think I’m right. This often leads me into conflict with people who think they’re right. On a daily basis, this could be a driver who thinks they’re right to overtake, a housemate who believes their washing up technique is the best, or a fellow gym-goer who thinks it’s fine to use perfumed oils in the sauna.
Like Marcus Aurelius says, my indignation seeks to deny these people the privilege of pursuing their own apparent concerns and interests. That indignation is not only morally wrong – I wouldn’t want anyone seeking to deny my right to pursue my own interests – but a waste of energy. I can’t control the thoughts and behaviour of other people, so why become indignent? It won’t change anything, and only exhausts me.
Secondly, I’m a scaredy-cat. I rarely confront people directly. If I think someone’s mistaken, I will much prefer to complain to others about their behaviour, than tackle them personally. I don’t need to elaborate what’s wrong with this approach. Not only does nothing change, but I spread the frustration among my confidants. Unresolved indignation seems to wallow in the skull, draining strength and generating neuroses.
We all know what the measured response is to conflict: talk to the person, explain your position and listen to theirs. Easy to write, as Marcus Aurelius found, not always easy to do.